Lights On Briefing: A new year under climate change

What you need to know to start the week

Lights On Briefing: A new year under climate change

Happy new year and welcome to the first Lights On news brief of 2022, with key headlines on energy and climate change in South Asia. After a busy end of the year, I am back to writing and hoping to hear from many of you on what you'd like to see more of in the coming months. Just hit reply to get in touch!

A new year under climate change

Those who were hoping that 2022 would bring the end to the pandemic have been disappointed - but with the ever-increasing spread of vaccines it is becoming less deadly. On the other hand, the global crisis brought by climate change shows no sign of slowing down, and we can be sure this new year will break new records and be more deadly than the previous one. We simply can’t ignore the comet.

This week, Mint Lounge has a recap of the key dates in the climate calendar, and India Spend reflects on what India should work on to spur climate action.


Solar cooking

Government officials have told The Mint that India may employ rooftop solar energy to help meet the country’s clean cooking goals. According to the officials — who requested anonymity — the plan would also equip rural homes with batteries to provide uninterrupted energy to 250 million households. India has invested in natural gas and liquefied petroleum to replace coal as fuel in kitchens around the country, and solar could be the next step with the spread of induction stoves. The big caveat is that electric stoves radically change the way food is prepared (and tastes), and many may not like the idea.

Expanding the green corridor

India has very ambitious plans when it comes to clean energy, but as installations and investments in new power plants keep growing, the infrastructure connecting all this new energy with homes around the country still lags behind. Last week, the government approved a new plan to address the problem. It sets out to build $1.61 billion worth of transmission lines within the next five years, connecting seven states and 20GW of renewable energy projects. The new transmission lines will add 10,750 circuit kilometres to the existing network, moving energy across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, it said.

Not so happy birthday for the clean air plan

Three years after the launch of the National Clean Air Programme, which promised to revolutionise air pollution response in more than 100 Indian cities with poor air quality, analysts have crunched the numbers. They found that far from meeting the goal of a 20 to 30 percent reduction in particulate matter, there has been little to no progress on the ground and in some cities pollution levels have worsened. In particular, Mumbai, Nashik and Chandrapur recorded an increase in fine particulate matter (PM2.5).


Modernising the grid

The World Bank has set aside $500 million to help Bangladesh modernise its electricity grid. The country’s obsolete electricity network is a little known but significant barrier to the adoption of clean energy. The current decades-old system cannot flexibly regulate electricity flows, and cannot accommodate the intermittent influx of clean energy without crashing. The plan will improve electricity services for 40 million people around the capital Dhaka, and build over 31,000 kilometres of new distribution lines. But experts have warned that a comprehensive upgrade of Bangladesh’s grid would cost around $20 billion.

Solar progress

The government has approved two separate solar plans for a total capacity of 120MW. Developers from Korea will team up with local firms to set up a 70MW project, and French and Norwegian firms will participate in the construction of an additional 50MW. With just over 777MW of renewable generation capacity at present, Bangladesh wants to generate 40 percent of all electricity from renewables by 2041, and all of it by 2050.


Coal retirement plans

The Asian Development Bank is considering purchasing and retiring coal fired power plants in Pakistan and replacing them with clean energy projects of the same capacity, according to the climate change ministry. The deal would be part of the Energy Transition Mechanism that the bank pitched at COP26.

I previously wrote about this potentially revolutionary financial instrument for The Third Pole.

Textile sector under pressure

Prolonged gas shortages are hurting Pakistan’s textiles, as factories depending on imported natural gas (LNG) were forced to shut down for 15 days in December. According to industry associations, this has led to a loss of $250 million worth of textile exports, adding further stress to the country’s strained economy. While Pakistan imports a lot of natural gas, competition for the fuel used for heating, cooking and more has increased due to global shortages, which caused a spike in prices.

On Twitter (have you seen Don't Look Up?)

Climate scientist here. #DontLookUp is just okay. I definitely laughed and I love good satire. But ultimately it's not the representation of climate science that I hoped it would be. 1/December 28, 2021

Research and further readings:

  • Report: Waste Wise Cities - In this report, the government’s policy branch Niti Aayog looks at teaching examples of good waste management in Indian cities. Crucially, it incorporates recommendations on the widespread waste to energy technology, which while successfully deployed in other countries has not delivered the expected results in India.
  • Long read: After Plastics, Environment Min Wants To Expand EPR To Waste Tyres - India is the world’s third largest producer and fourth largest consumer of natural rubber. Within the country, the automobile industry is the largest consumer. As more and more cars hit the road every year, the way it manages its discarded tyres increasingly matters.
  • Long read: Are 'Sponge Cities' the Answer to Shenzhen's Water Scarcity? – The Diplomat - A solution from China has raised interest at a regional and global level. Sponge cities have been pitched as a way to address urban water scarcity. In a sponge city, nature-based solutions are implemented to infiltrate, retain, and store stormwater for future water use.

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